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by Silva Noir

Chapter 18: Horns and Hooves

Blush streaked across the edge of the horizon. Long clouds were still to the eye. Passage of time was shown on their misty sides as a slow tinting from palest blue to dusty violet. A general sense of tranquility permeated the evening, aside only from an unseasonably cool gust of wind. This was the deceptive calm before the storm.

A pair of shadows meandered along the rocky rise of land between two charcoal pools of the tri-town reservoir. On the surface of that water, a single white male mute swan dipped its neck between weeds, bobbing for dinner, moving at the same dawdling pace as the shadows. The pair’s conversation was hidden from prying ears by the rustling of broad leaves of yearling poplar groves that had spring up from the cracks in the stone slopes.

"You know what I like about living near this, about this very spot?" The smaller of the two figures posed to the taller. "If you spin around you can see it... really see it. You see the world... the earth... the curve of it. Like a big fishbowl, no, a dome. You really see you’re on a round planet. You see you’re under the sky, that it isn’t flat with boxes. You can hardly see buildings, just a few. Mostly it’s just pines and other trees. You look around here and you feel it… that is… I don’t know the word to describe it. Important? Precious? Something like that. The more rare something is the more they….” He stopped his soft-spoken exultation, turning his gaze from the heavens to the narrow dirt path under his feet.

“What’s wrong? What were you going to say?” The taller asked, concerned for his sulking companion.

Palmer shrugged, hands in his baggy jeans pockets. “I was going to say the more rare it is, the more they value it. Unless it’s a rare type of person. People really dislike anything that falls out what’s the majority. You can be different but not too different.” He kicked a small piece of driftwood out of the way. “Makes me wish I was some sort of expensive vase instead of me.”

David pushed wispy bangs from his forehead, which refused to stay still in the chill breeze. He’d long since removed his round frame glasses, only really needing them to focus to read and cut down on the glare of light bouncing off the silvery irises of his eyes. At night when both light and detail were diminished, the glasses were useless. He sighed. “If its any consolation, I’m glad you’re you. If I walked around talking to a vase, people would think I was nuts. Well, significantly more nuts then they already think I am.” That elicited small smiles from both boys.

The peace and sanctity of the pocket of wilderness was soon cut short. An echoing rifle shot cut across the sir. Simultaneously, two animal screams were heard. One was the ear-piercing dying shriek of a black and white feathered osprey as it banked and plummeted to the ground. The other was the tiny framed Hispanic, who wide eyed, gave a strangled cry of shock.

"They're he-here. N-now." Palmer stuttered. "The-the ones who k- killed Lilly. The ones who are trying to kill ME!"

Protectively, David stood between where the bird of prey had fallen and his defenseless friend. “I won’t let them kill you. I won’t let anyone hurt you,” he hissed. “I promise. Run to the dam. Hide under it. I’ll come get you after I take care of this.” He looked over his shoulder and watched the other stumble then break into a panicked sprint towards the shelter of the cement structure. Like a mouse, he was little but quick. He’d probably had lots of experience of having to run away. David then scanned the opposite length of road in front of him for any movement.

He saw none, the scenery all blending to black as the sun was setting. He dropped to all fours, bits of gravel biting into skin. His shoulders tensed as the Xilvrin covered every bit of him in thick heavy plates. Within moments his bulk was increased four fold. Where once stood a boy now stood a long horned bull that needed no red sheet to spark his anger. C’mon you dirty matador, show yourself, just try and taunt me, I dare you. He snorted and pawed at the tan sand with hooves as wide as saucers.

The bull barreled down the straight strip of the land bridge. Their only escape, if they chose to advance, would be to slide down the rock slope. David was taking a chance, wagering they would worry about falling into the water or twisting their ankles in the crags. There wasn’t enough room for him to turn around. As he reached the mainland and the fork in the road, two unidentifiable delinquents worked together to push the gate that separated his town with the next, closed. Still charging and unable to brake on a dime, David shifted his horns and bovine cranium to a flat snow shovel (his human head actually being within the neck of the bull body). He plowed into the hollow steel pipes and forced them open. Low visibility of the encroaching dark, made worse by the armor’s deteriorated view, prevented him from seeing exactly where in the brush and bramble they had dashed off to. Neither of the boys at the gate brandished a gun. The one posing the greatest threat had eluded him. Damn it, he cursed they got away.

Warily, he retreated back. Afraid of being followed and watched while shedding the metal second skin, he slid down into the reservoir’s cloudy depths, divesting of legs and switching form to the smaller, quicker dolphin. He rocketed through the water, snapping sunfish and weeds as he did. These "snacks on the go" replenished all the lost energy spent on the bull. Anthony the swan's feet dangled above him, also pulling out weeds for dinner. He decided given what happened to the other bird, that he'd better take Palmer's feathered friend with him. He grabbed onto a leg and slowed the pace so that he wouldn't break it, only drag the waterfowl across the surface faster than he could paddle with webbed feet. Once he'd caught Anthony he sent out threads to hold the suprisingly overweight swan to the top of his head, as they would be going into shallows soon.

The dam was a convient hiding place, clustered with cat o' nine tails and the invasive tall purple flowering stalks that choked out native species sprouting out of the rectanular stone that lined the streambed. The water was no deeper than a few inches. The dolphin used it as a slip n' slide. Palmer was barely visible under the eve of the dam's roof, which on top a section of the road lie. He had carefully climbed down through the thorny slope and hopped over, standing on a narrow cement ledge that wasn't wet. Only a trickle of water spilled over the opening of the dam. Heavy flow only came during the rains. Now that David thought about it, the sky was darkening and the wind was picking up and not only because of the transition into night.

"All's clear," emerging from a shed dolphin skin David presented the path to Palmer.

"No, we can't go that way. THEY'RE that way. WE can't go that way." Palmer acted paranoid, as though he was expecting an entire enemy invasion.

David reminded him, "Your house is that way."

"We'll go around"

"That will take another hour, at least. It's begining to rain and you just got over the flu. I'm not going to sit up all night and watch over you again for another five days. I want some sleep."

"I don't care," Palmer said going back up the thorny hill and moving towards Braintree, "I'm not going THAT way," he glanced back to the invisible Randolph town border. At the fork in the road after the dam he started down the side nestled under tall black pines until he realized that was a quick dead end. He doubled back to the much less easy to travel road. Balancing carefully on pushed up mud, he tried not to ruin his sneakers or fall into to one of the deep watery troughs. The unpaved road was meant for the town water commission trucks and kept from flooding only by tarps pegged up in front of bales of hay. On the side opposite the reservoir were steep slopes over twenty feet high that vehicles couldn't navigate over. Palmer and David were able to walk a quarter of a mile length of the trail before the storm became too heavy to travel through.

David kept calling his friend's name as if he were a dog that would not return to its master. Palmer shivered, too full of pride to give up. He was unable to see inches before him except the cold pouring drops hitting his tanned skin and soaking his shirt and pants. tangled up in you Fed up, David got behind him, putting both smaller hands in his own. "Do you ever wonder what its like? I want someone to know, to share it with." They fell backwards into the shelter of yearling trees. David held the shivering body as close to his own as he could.

"What are you going to do to me?" Palmer's heart raced. Something cold other than the rain, wet but not soaking was covering his skin. Soon he was ensnared in it along with David, tied to him by shifting heavy bounds.

"Shh, hold your breath for a minute," David whispered into his ear just before Xilvrin smothered them both in a great blob.

For once in his life, Palmer could actually see what David was thinking. No, not understand the concept but actually see it in his mind's eye ... they were becoming -the two of them- a big horn sheep. The screen of a nature show watched in David's distant past showed the animals expertly hopping along steep slopes even in the worst of weather. As the Xilvrin was controlled by David's emotions, and Palmer had great sensitivity to the feelings of others, as long as Xilvrin touched Palmer they were psychicly connected. The Xilvrin in turn formed cloven hooves the size of garbage can lids at the undersides. When Palmer thought he could hold his breath no longer he was released from the suffocating hold of the glop. He landed on his back, never aware that he'd been falling as they had been sitting on the ground. Pliable padding of Xilvrin was underneath him. The air filled chamber was black as midnight.

"David, where are you?" Palmer groped around in the dark only finding more of the same of what trapped him on all sides. Above him seemed to be a tangle of wires and cables that he had to stand to reach. When he tried to do so he only slid back down into the bowled floor.

"Baaaah!" the sound was echoed and amplified from all directions, a distortion of his original voice to the extent if you did not know it was David somewhere in there, you'd have no idea who it as at all.

"Just how I wanted to spend my Sunday ... in the stomach of a giant metal sheep," Palmer was jolted as the whole creature began to move.

The ram took bites of dripping leaves of trees as it pushed through them, grinding them on flat teeth, feeding its massive bulk. David no longer had any human sensation, his feet were hooves, his hands were hooves, and his head was the curling horned head of the mighty ram. What he saw periscoped from the large mirrored eyes of the animal above him. Vision was questionable at best, but with a form meant to bash into hard surfaces, he didn't fret.

"Sclorp, sqwu-ish, sclorp, sqwu-ish..." the deep muck sucked at the battle beast's legs as it moved along.

"David ... where are you?" Palmer asked again, jumping up to try to reach the Xilvrin cables and holding on. This Trojan Horse (or rather, sheep) didn't suit him. He was small enough to squeeze through the gaps between the organic machinery. He found his way by touch. The wires converged on a cocoon in the heart of the animal. A set would pull in turn moving a part of the animal. "David ... oh God..." He wanted to tear him out of what he saw as a horror.

David was at his most comfortable, however. This was his element. He was safe here. He was strong. He could go where he pleased. He could shield his friend from anything. Nothing could hurt them now. He's more than a friend. He's like a little brother to me. I'm not going to let anything happen to him. I promised. I wish his family was my family. In one way, I wish I hadn't been born as this freak. On the other hand I'm glad that I'm able to take care of him when he doesn't have the strength to. Once I figure out a way to make sure he's saved for good ... once that I've saved at least one life, I can leave. I don't know how I'll do that. I'm worthless until I've done that much. I can't save the world, but please, just one person? Even I'm not that big of a failure not to accomplish that, right? I don't mind staying for a while ... its so good to have a home and people who actually care about me. I wish he would stop being afraid of me, I'd never do anything to harm him physically.

The message was loud and clear. Palmer had misinterpreted David's mild affection for him. "When you said you were different ... you meant this, right? This changing-into-things?" He got no answer. Did David know he could read his mind? Could David read his mind? "I'm sorry I got it wrong," he said for safe measure. He wondered if it was too late to reinvent their relationship. He didn't want to ruin the special bond his friend seemed to think he had with him.

RAM!David was distracted. He saw a toy to play with on the upcoming road. The police car was out monitoring for those going over the speed limit. The Morphist's special hatred for all things authoritative and restrictive urged him to run at full force and slam his curled horns into the passenger side door, igniting sparks and sending the vehicle over the guardrail into the reservoir below just as lightning struck. Palmer saw all this too. He acted to stop the destructive fantasy. Courageously he pulled on a cluster of cords that governed the movement of the right leg. He pulled until his own muscles ached. For all his efforts the cloven hoof moved back one measly step. Puppeting the armor himself would be impossible, but he was able to halt it from advancing.

"Please David... I want to go home" he whined, rubbing his sore wrists with one hand while holding on with the other.

The bigger-than-a-monster-truck big horn sheep did an about face. Traipsing through the trees again didn't appeal to it. Instead it let its whole body fall into the reservoir feeling none of the chill. At the center only the very top of the ram;s head stuck out as the rest plodded under the waters. He doggypaddled until he came to the raised road divide. With a clip-clop-clip scraping sharp metal hooves against rocks, he'd jumped it and splashed down to the other side. He shed armor once they'd reached the final shore before exiting onto Moores Ave. His friend was as uncomfortable having the mercury like substance melt off him as he was having it wrap around him.

Back at the quaint flower surrounded house, Palmer's mother shouted at them from the kitchen not to track in mud on her clean floors and to get changed into clean dry clothes before they caught their death. David brushed past her without shoes to the fridge. He raided it for a few of the leftover brownies she'd brought back from that morning's church bake sale. He shrugged and smiled behind a brownie stuck in his teeth as she shook her head at him. Good for him she was too busy with his antics to see that his toes were the permanent hooves instead of fleshy nubs as they should be.

After practically inhaling the brownie he retreated to the basement where he'd come to spent his nights at home in. He flicked the TV dial on to a movie that looked interesting, pulled some new clothes out of one of the two bags that all his earthly possessions fit into (Rex, his pet cactus, being the exception) and sprawled out on the beanbags he slept on as a bed.

"Beep beep biddy bip beep... " his cell phone woke him. as it was a gift from Rabbit. The phone call of course, was from her.

"Hi... I was out with a friend.... So what if I've been spending a lot of time with him lately? ....Yes, I'm alone right now.... News? What kind of news?... Hynui's free! But how? ... what to you mean it gets worse?... Well, why don't you tell me over the phone instead? Why do I have to come all the way over there? ... Look, I .... OK, OK, in a minute.... Love you too. Bye" He flipped it shut.

Palmer had been walking down the stairs. Grena yapped and nipped at his heels. "Who was on the phone?"

"My girlfriend," David sighed and got to his feet. "Look, Sparky, I'll tell it to you straight." unknowingly he'd picked up a few mannerisms from Sue... she'd called Palmer that because she said his hair looked as though it was styled by sticking his finger in a light socket then brushing some of it back down. "I have to go and take all my stuff with me ... and I don't know when or if I'll come back. Something has happened and I'm pretty sure its bad. So take care all right? This has all meant more to me than you could know. You've been a great friend... almost like family, the kind I never had but wish I did."

"All right ... but..." he didn't know what to say. Confess a love he was no longer sure of? Beg him to stay? Ask just who was this girl and how could she ever care about David as much as he did? Being a wimp, he sat on the stairs and watched David pack, biting his lip. Grena curled up and napped in his lap.

"Take care of Rex for me too?" David pointed to the potted cactus on the TV shelf. "I know this will sound incredibly stupid, but he was the only pet and friend ... the only living being I could share my thoughts with for a long and lonely time of my life. As you've got all the landscaping stuff here from your dad's company, I think he would have a better life here... a happier one."

"I will," Palmer promised. "David..." he wished he could throw his heart at him as no words could fit what he felt. "Please ... be safe wherever you're going," he held in the tears until the odd being walked out the door, never to return, then sobbed loudly.

The sound carried. David felt pangs of guilt for leaving him, but he knew for his own sake he couldn't hide away here any longer.

Shrugging off gallons of Xilvrin for the third time that night David walked into the apartment complex displeased. He did not feel right about abandoning Palmer like that. That would change as soon he opened the door to Rabbit's abode to have a minilla file folder tossed at him. He dropped the bag only containing clothes to catch it. Inside were the negatives of photogrpahs. Once he held them to the nearest lamp he well recognized them. "These are the pictures Palmer took of me ... what are you doing with them?"

"The question is, what was Hyuni planning to do with them?" She rose from the couch she was sitting on.

"He stole them?"

"Don't be so naive, David." She readjusted his collar for him, then looked him straight in the eyes with a stony face. "Palmer was asked, and was paid for his services. I wouldn't work for Hyuni, and who better to collect data on you than the one closest to you?"

"No! No no no. ... no frickin' way," He refused to believe it. "What would he have to gain from it?"

"Money, of course. Isn't that always what anyone has to gain: money or power?" She smirked.

David was beyond confused. "But he wouldn't ... he couldn't... I trusted him... I... "

"No need to worry. I found these before he could make off with them. Hyuni is already on his way back to his father no doubt. He'll either tell him that you are with me to disgrace me, or, to make himself look like less of a failure. They may be expecting me to bring you in. Or, he may tell them I am dead ... or that you are dead or..."

"All right, so what do we do? Go find him? What? Tell me, give me a plan, something!" David shook her by the shoulders until she gave him a murderous look telling him to stop.

She smoothed the crinkles out of her dress, "We do nothing for now. I wait for my inside connection to get back to me about what the situation is and react accordingly."

"I hate this. I HATE THIS!" He yelled loud enough for the neighbors to yell back for him to shut up.

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